With over 2 billion active users, Facebook is the largest social media platform in the world. The platform for people to voice individual opinions freely had been a threat to countries around the world that practices internet censorship. Although the platform is loved by many, most users are unaware of Facebook’s privacy issues. The social media giant has faced a myriad of challenges over security and data privacy issues. Since its founding, the company has faced a long list of allegations ranging from misinformation campaigns to election interference and various abuse issues. Here’s a rundown of Facebook’s major privacy controversies and their impact on social media privacy in the age of the internet.
Advertising Privacy Issues
In 2007, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg came under fire over the company’s violation of user privacy in online advertising. At the time, Facebook had deployed a program called Beacon that allowed companies to collect user data without consent. The program allowed companies to track purchases made by Facebook users. Beacon would, in turn, tell their Facebook friends about the purchases, including the items that had been bought.
Beacon was among the company’s first attempts to monetize user data. As part of the Beacon program, every activity that a Facebook user engaged in on other websites was added to their user profile automatically. In December 2007, the Facebook CEO offered an apology promising to avail the option to opt-out of the program. The company paid a settlement of $9.5 million after a class-action lawsuit was filed. As part of the agreement, the money went to a fund for privacy and security.
FTC Privacy Charges
In November 2011, the Federal Trade Commission accused Facebook of falsely claiming that third-party apps were only allowed to access the data they needed to operate. FTC investigations revealed that third parties could, in fact, access almost all of the user’s personal data. Users never agreed to third-party apps collecting private posts even if their friends have used the app. Earlier, Facebook had promised not to share user information with advertisers.
The FTC found that the company continued to share user information with advertisers and allowed user information to be made public without warning. According to a report by The New York Times, this investigation was prompted by a December 2009 incident in which information thought to be private by Facebook users was shared publicly. Following the 2011 investigation by the FTC, Facebook agreed to subject itself to an independent privacy evaluation each year for the next 20 years.
Bug Exposes Personal Details
In June 2013, a White Hat hacker discovered a bug that was exposing private contact information of Facebook users. The company explained that the bug would match the data of people who joined Facebook and uploaded their contact lists to the data of other people on the platform. By the time it was discovered, the bug had exposed the personal details of over six million Facebook users in a period of 12 months. This data had been pulled from the contact lists of other Facebook users who happened to know the person and had not been given to Facebook by the user.
The Cambridge Analytica Scandal
Perhaps the biggest data privacy crisis to hit Facebook, the Cambridge Analytica scandal spurred investigations into the company’s privacy, data sharing practices, and control over third-party access. A political data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, deployed a legitimate application distributed by a third party to collect user data on Facebook and build political profiles. The FTC, along with the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice started investigations into whether the company was aware of Cambridge Analytica’s activity.
Social media is a powerful political tool. Users need to be more careful with their personal data. It’s apparent that Facebook is indifferent to user privacy. There are well-documented cases of companies harvesting Facebook user data for targeted political advertising. The political consulting firm behind Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and the pro-Brexit campaign, Cambridge Analytica, is one of them. These revelations show a sad state of privacy in the social media era.